A sales assistant looks after customers when they are shopping. They are always ready to answer questions and find items for customers, to give advice and information, to keep the stock in the shop looking its best, and to handle payment for customers’ purchases.
Salaries for junior and trainee sales assistants are £9,000 – £13,000 a year, reaching £11,000 – £15,000 once you are more experienced. Sales managers can earn up to £20,000 a year.
Many of the larger retail companies offer their employees staff discounts on their products, often between 20% and 50%. There is often increased pay offered for shifts worked during Bank Holidays, Sundays and for overtime.
A Sales Assistant must:
- Be attentive to customers’ needs.
- Give information about the features, quality and availability of different products.
- Help customers find products they are looking for in the shop.
- When necessary, be able to give in-depth technical advice about products.
- Handle the payment for any purchases.
- Arrange orders and deliveries of stock for customers.
- Advise the customer of information relating to their purchase, such as its warranty or how to look after it.
- Make the customer aware of any special offers.
- Make sure that all stock is on display.
- Be aware of what all the customers in the shop are doing, to guard against shoplifting.
There are no formal minimum entry requirements for a sales assistant. You should be able to show a good degree of numeracy and literacy, so GCSEs in English and Maths are useful.
Sales Assistants have many diverse tasks and always need to be friendly and professional with customers. Key skills and qualities include:
- Good teamwork.
- Flexibility to do different tasks.
- Ability to be friendly and polite, even when tired, or under pressure.
- Ability to follow procedures correctly, such as using a till.
- Confidence in giving advice and information.
- Having enough stamina to keep going.
Working hours for sales assistants depend on the shop. In high-street shops the working day is usually from 8.30 to 5.30, but in supermarkets and petrol station shops the hours may be much longer and there may be shifts throughout the night. Part-time opportunities to work different shifts each week are very common. A full-time position is typically between 35 and 40 hours a week.
Working conditions are different in each shop, but sales assistants usually have to spend a lot of time on their feet, and have to carry stock to different places around the shop. Sales assistants have to be helpful to customers even when they are tired and the shop is very busy. If a sales assistant notices something going wrong, it is important that they tell other members of staff, so that things keep running smoothly and customers can make their purchases easily and quickly.
There are increasing numbers of male sales assistants, even though it has been a female-dominated role in the past. There are no barriers to either men or women, although certain roles are still gender-specific in the interests of the customer, for example female lingerie.
As there are shops in every town and city, it is almost guaranteed that you will be able to find a sales assistant position without needing to relocate.
There are many opportunities for sales assistants who have no previous experience or qualifications. When applying for a job as a sales assistant, it is useful (but not essential) to be able to show some experience of dealing with the public and handling money. If you want to work in a specialist shop, you may need in-depth knowledge of the types of products that are for sale. In some cases, for example in a pharmacy, you will need a qualification to work as a sales assistant (see related links for more information).
Basic training will happen on the job. In large retail companies, there is often a set training scheme that you will follow when you start. In smaller shops, the training will be more informal, to make sure that you are using the till correctly, and are aware of information (about prices, offers, etc.) that customers will need.
Whilst you are training, you may choose to work towards various qualifications, which include: NVQ (Retail Skills, Retail, Sales, or Customer Service) and BTEC First Certificate and/or Diploma in Retail. Apprenticeship schemes are also available to help people enter the retail industry (see related links).
The major employers of sales assistants are the large retail chains, which have outlets in most towns and cities. These include the Arcadia Group, which owns seven of the UK’s most familiar high-street fashion and clothing shops: Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge, Topman, Topshop and Wallis. It is the UK’s largest privately owned clothing retailer with 27,000 employees and more than 2,500 outlets across the UK.
Other major employers across the UK include Boots, WH Smith and the supermarkets, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Iceland and Morrisons.
Overall, the retail sector employs about 3 million people in the UK, which is 11% of the total workforce. Adverts for sales assistant jobs can be found in local press, Jobcentre Plus, on the websites of the employers themselves, and in the actual shops.
The retail sector is big business in the UK, making sales of £256 billion in 2006, and there are many different career paths on offer.
Being a sales assistant is a good way of entering the retail industry. As you gain experience, it is very likely that you will be able to progress to more senior roles in the shop you work in, such as supervisor or store manager. A typical career path in the larger retail chains runs from sales assistant to store manager to area manager, and recruitment often takes place from within the company.
Being competent as a sales assistant in a large chain can help you on your way to many different careers in the retail sector, including Buyer, Merchandising executive, Designer, or Distribution manager.
Also known as…
- Shop Assistant
- Retail Sales Assistant
- Retail Assistant
What’s it really like?
Fran Clixby is 20, and has been a sales assistant at the fashion and clothing retail chain Next for a year and a half. She tells us what it’s really like.
I have been at Next for about a year and a half – I started in July last year, and I have been working there when I am at home from university in the holidays. I had never been a sales assistant before, so this is my first job in the industry.
A normal day involves lots of different things. At Next, there are two or three shop assistants working in the same department at any one time, so we all do different tasks to make sure everything is being looked after. Sometimes I will be working off the shop floor, processing new stock and getting it ready to be put out on display.
In the store itself, I work behind the till and help in the fitting rooms. This involves making sure people aren’t stealing anything and also helping them make crucial decisions! One of the nicest things about the job is talking to customers, and the satisfaction when you help people find something they really like. I take the clothes people leave at the fitting rooms back into the shop as quickly as possible, so that other customers can see them too.
Sometimes I can also be found at the front of the shop promoting new Next catalogues, or on the shop floor checking that the way the stock is displayed satisfies the guidelines that we are given by head office. It’s hard being on your feet all day, and some of the things I have to do are really repetitive. But the people I work with make it a really fun job. There is a really good team spirit, and the staff discount definitely comes in handy!
One piece of advice I have for anyone who wants to be a sales assistant is to choose your shifts wisely – for example, try to spend your morning in ladies wear, and the afternoon in children’s wear. This keeps a bit of variety in what you have to do.
Because I only work here in the holidays, I haven’t really thought about trying for a promotion. It is great having the flexibility to come here and work for shifts that suit me, and when you get promoted you have less flexibility about your hours and shifts. Once you have been working here regularly for six months then you will usually be promoted if you decide to apply for vacancies within the store. Next also provides a weekly bulletin with information about vacancies across the nation so there seems to be quite a lot of opportunity for career progression.
Fran is paid £5.52 an hour, with double time on bank holidays and an increased rate on Sundays.